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Master Printmakers, 1920 - 1940: Selections from the Collection of The Columbus Museum

January 10 - July 3, 2016


The period between the two world wars saw great cultural and social changes: women's suffrage; Prohibition and its repeal; the carefree, permissive society of the Roaring Twenties followed by the desperate years of the Great Depression; the rise of mass communication such as radio broadcasts and the motion picture industry; and other technological achievements such as the first transatlantic flight. On view in the exhibition are prints by leading American artists that present American life during these turbulent decades. (right: Martin Lewis (1881 Castlemaine, Australia -1962 New York, NY), Quarter of Nine, Saturday's Children, 1929, Drypoint on paper. Collection of The Columbus Museum, Georgia; Museum purchase  G.1982.27)

The United States Census of 1920 revealed that for the first time more Americans lived in urban areas than rural ones. The images of city dwellers engaged in office work and urban recreation in Master Printmakers reflect the new ascendancy of the city. Other works on view focus on images of rural life and scenery; some artists, watching the new dominance of urban industry, extolled the beauty and importance of the nation's traditional agrarian economy.

Printmaking media in the exhibition include examples of etching, lithography, and relief printing. Around 1400, as paper became more readily available, printmaking developed as an art form in the West. The earliest prints were woodcuts, a relief printing process in which artists cut away parts of a wood block to make a raised image that is then inked and transferred to paper by hand or press. In the mid-15th century, intaglio, a form of printmaking that includes engraving and etching, became popular. The opposite of relief printing, in the intaglio process the image is incised into the surface, which is then inked, wiped, and printed. Only the cut areas below the surface of the plate retain ink and appear in the print. Lithography, a surface process, developed in the 19th century. In this form of printmaking, the artist draws an image onto a stone or plate with a wax crayon or other oil-based medium, dampens the surface with water, and inks the surface. The printmaker covers the stone with paper and runs it through the printing press.

In America, print collecting became more common in the 1920s and 1930s, due both to a greater number of artists interested in print media and the growth of distributors of fine art prints such as the Associated American Artists, clubs such as the Print Club of Cleveland, and the U.S. government through the Federal Art Project of the 1930s. Fine art prints were more affordable than paintings and sculpture, making them -- then as now -- an excellent way for more Americans to own original works of art and to support artists.


(above: Clare Leighton (1898 London, England - 1989 Woodbury, CT), Firewood in Georgia, 1930s, Wood engraving. Collection of The Columbus Museum, Georgia; Museum purchase  G.1979.69)


Extended object labels from the exhibition

John Taylor Arms
born Washington D.C. 1887
died New York, NY 1953
Rocamadour, 1927
Etching on paper
Gift of Philip Harris Giddens
Trained as an architect, John Taylor Arms specialized in etchings of noted monuments during his 50-year career. Following in the tradition of late nineteenth-century American printmakers such as Joseph Pennell, Arms largely focused on European scenes, and Rocamadour represents that older, but continuing tradition. Arms traveled extensively through France, Italy, England, and Spain to find material, returning to his studio in Connecticut to create the etchings. Arms preferred the print medium, because it was affordable, thus more people could collect original works of art.
Located about 100 miles north of Toulouse along a tributary of the Dordogne River, Rocamadour is known for its medieval church of Notre Dame, which pilgrims had visited on the famous route to Santiago de Campostela in Spain since the Middle Ages. Arms captures the beauty of the village, which is dramatically perched on a cliff and is designated as one of the "Grand Sites of France."
Lamar Baker
born Atlanta, GA 1908
died Talbotton, GA 1994
Self-Portrait with Cotton Plant, 1940
Lithograph on paper
Museum purchase
For several years after his 1935 move to New York for study at the Art Students League, Lamar Baker continued to spend his summers in Atlanta and Waverly Hall near Columbus. From 1938 until 1941, Baker made a series of prints about Georgia's "cotton culture," criticizing the working conditions for sharecroppers. Baker created this self-portrait lithograph while he was working on the "Cotton Series." Baker's work often combines realism with elements of fantasy. Here, the artist, attired in a business suit, is dwarfed by the large cotton plant, whose location behind and above Baker's head might be viewed as symbolizing its importance in the artist's thoughts at the time.
Frank Benson
born Salem, MA 1862
born Salem, MA 1951
Dawn, 1924
Museum purchase
American Impressionist Frank Benson created numerous paintings, watercolors, lithographs and etchings of wild fowl, as exemplified in The Columbus Museum's print. After study in Boston and Paris, Benson later headed the painting department at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where he was a popular teacher.
Benson began working in the medium of etching around 1912. Interested in hunting and fishing, his first exhibited etchings were of wild fowl. A Boston Globeart critic called him the "best known and most popular etcher in the world." Benson created more than 350 etchings and drypoints between 1912 and 1942.
Thomas Hart Benton
born Neosho, MO 1889
died Kansas City, MO 1975
Shallow Creek, 1939
Gift of Norman S. Rothschild
G. 1982.52
Leading Regionalist artist Thomas Hart Benton often depicted rivers, creeks and other bodies of water in his paintings and prints. The lithograph in this exhibition is related to the artist's 1938 painting of the same name and shows Benton's son fording a tributary of the White River in Arkansas.
Prints, an affordable medium, appealed to Benton, who was interested in making his art available to as many viewers as possible. He completed nearly 100 lithographs working with master lithographer George C. Miller. Associated American Artists (AAA) distributed his prints, including Shallow Creek, which was made in an edition of 250. AAA prints were sold in department stores and by mail, making it possible for many Americans to purchase a signed lithograph by one of the country's most famous artists for only five dollars.
Isabel Bishop
born Cincinnati, OH 1902
died New York, NY 1988
Office Girls, 1938
Etching on wove paper
Gift of Grand Central Galleries
Female office workers appeared frequently in Isabel Bishop's paintings and prints. A successful painter who became a member of the National Academy of Design, Bishop was also a leading New York printmaker who depicted the everyday urban life of lower Manhattan as she observed it from her studio in Union Square. Office Girls, with its depiction of two women relaxing at the entrance of a building, is characteristic of her realist style.
Associated American Artists, an art gallery that began circulating prints in the mid-1930s as an "art for the people," distributed this etching.
Helen Greene Blumenschein
born New York, NY 1909
died Taos, NM 1989
Moonlight, 1939
Museum purchase
The daughter of noted Taos artists Ernest L. and Mary Greene Blumenschein, Helen Greene Blumenschein was a gifted printmaker whose work was exhibited nationally and internationally. In her work, she focused on Western mountain and desert landscapes and on scenes of everyday life in New Mexico, where she made her home. Blumenschein worked in a wide variety of media, including oil, watercolor, lithography, ink and charcoal.
George Elbert Burr
born Monroe Falls, OH 1859
died Phoenix, AZ 1939
A Mirage - Arizona #2, ca. 1920-21
Etching with drypoint on paper
Museum purchase
George Elbert Burr was largely self-taught, studying only briefly at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Known for his depictions of the American West, Burr is considered one of America's finest etchers of the early twentieth century. A prolific artist, he pulled more than 25,000 etchings from his own presses during his lifetime.
Drypoint is a form of intaglio in which the artist scratches the line directly into the plate with a sharp point. As the needle scores the metal, it throws up a ridge of metal (burr). The burr holds a quantity of ink that creates a rich, fuzzy quality to the line. Over the course of printing, both the line and the burr wear down quickly, and relatively few impressions can be made.
John Steuart Curry
born Dunavant, KS 1897
died Madison, WI 1946
Manhunt, 1934
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edward S. Shorter by exchange and Museum purchase
From the 1920s until his death, John Steuart Curry was one of the three great American Scene painters (with Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood), artists who thought that American artists should depict American subject matter and created nostalgic views of their birthplaces in the rural Midwest.
Manhunt is related to Curry's 1931 painting of the same title and portrays a Kansas lynch mob searching for its victim. Although perhaps better remembered today for his farm subjects, in fact Curry often depicted the hardships, injustices, and danger of African-American life. The Contemporary Print Group in New York published Manhuntin its portfolio, "The American Scene, Series 2." At the time the lithograph was published, the painting was in the collection of Arthur B. Springarn, then vice president of the NAACP.
Lesley Buckland Crawford
born New York, NY 1887
died Springfield, VT, 1963
Parachute Jump (Coney Island), ca. 1940
Lithograph on paper
Museum purchase
The Parachute Jump was one of the most memorable amusement rides of the 1939 New York World's Fair. Standing 250' tall and inspired by military parachute towers, the jump offered a fast drop to earth that was slowed by a parachute. Springs at the bottom of the ride helped soften the landing. The Parachute Jump was such a popular attraction that it was moved to Steeplechase Parkway on Coney Island after the fair closed and continued to be in operation for several decades. Rides such as the Parachute Jump exemplified the new forms of recreation found in America's cities in the twentieth century.
Crawford, a graduate of Vassar College, studied at the Art Students League in New York. She later was active in Springfield, Vermont, where she was a founder of the Miller Art Center.
Ernest Fiene
born Elberfeld, Germany, 1894
died Paris, France, 1965
Mid-Winter, 1939
Lithograph on paper
Gift of Grand Central Galleries
Ernest Fiene was interested in depicting American rural life in his paintings and prints. Commissioned by the Associated American Artists, Mid-Winters hows a view from his home in Southbury, Connecticut.
Fiene immigrated to the United States in 1912 and became a naturalized citizen in 1927. He studied at the Art Students League in New York, and first made lithographs during his student days there. From 1938 until 1964, Fiene taught at the Art Students League in New York, and he was also a member of the supervising faculty of the Famous Artists School in Westbury, Connecticut.
Ernest Haskell
born Woodstock, CT 1876
died Phippsburg, ME 1925
Orindo Rancho, 1920
Etching on wove paper
Gift of Philip Harris Giddens
Ernest Haskell was successful as a painter and illustrator, but it was as an etcher that he remained best known throughout his career. He had studied etching in France with James Abbott McNeill Whistler, one of the greatest etchers of the nineteenth century and was known for his meticulous drawing style. A painstaking worker, Haskell used a wide variety of etching needles, scrapers, and burnishers to perfect the plate and is thought to have ground his own ink as well.
Orindo Rancho is a California scene near San Francisco, where the artist lived from 1918 until 1920. Haskell was known for depictions of trees, as seen in the large tree that dominates the central part of this etching.
Kalman Matyas Bela Kubinyi
born Cleveland, OH 1906
died Stockbridge, MA 1973
Lake Front, ca. 1935-1943
Soft ground etching on paper
Gift of George W. Dudley, Jr.
Lake Front was one of several prints by Kalman Kubinyi that the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration distributed. Part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal, the Federal Art Project employed thousands of artists to create paintings, sculpture, murals, posters, prints, and drawings during the Great Depression. Kubinyi not only participated in the Federal Art Project as an artist but also as the supervisor of its graphic arts division in Cleveland from 1935 until 1939. He later headed the entire Federal Art Project for the city.
Kubinyi's prominent role in the graphic arts division of the Federal Art Project is not surprising, for several years earlier, the artist had founded the Cleveland Printmakers, an organization that established a "Print-a-Month" series. For the monthly subscription cost of ten dollars, members received an etching, lithograph, or woodcut. Artists were limited to 250 impressions of each image and earned $50 for each commission.
Clare Leighton
born London, England 1898
died Woodbury, CT 1989
Firewood in Georgia, 1930s
Wood engraving
Museum purchase
Clare Leighton visited the United States several times in the 1920s and 1930s before immigrating here in 1939. In 1935, during a winter road trip through Georgia, she encountered the scene that inspired this print. Concerned about the plight of workers, Leighton often depicted them in her work. In Firewood in Georgia, three African-Americans haul wood through a stark and inhospitable landscape. The woman at the left holds her back, while at the far right, a man covers his cold ears, and the central figure staggers under the weight of the bundle of firewood. Leighton conveys the injustice of the figures' lives of privation through their physical and emotional exhaustion.
A variant of the woodcut, wood engravings are a form of relief printing and are known for their white-on-black imagery.
Martin Lewis
born Castlemaine, Australia 1881
died New York, NY 1962
Quarter of Nine, Saturday's Children, 1929
Drypoint on paper
Museum purchase
Remembering his first impressions of New York, the city where he spent most of his life, Martin Lewis later wrote, "New York had all the iridescence of the beginning of the world." His prints, including Quarter of Nine, Saturday's Children, embodied that statement. One of the most gifted printmakers of the early twentieth century, Lewis was admired for his ability to capture atmospheric effects such as light, snow, and rain through a deft use of line.
Lewis's images of New York focused on its inhabitants rather than on architecture. In this print, the long shadows cast by pedestrians and the slanted rays of light emanating from the right capture the quality of late afternoon on a windy, brisk day.
Louis Lozowick
born Ludvinovka, Ukraine 1892
died South Orange, NJ 1973
City on a Rock--Cohoes, 1931
Lithograph on paper
Museum purchase
The modern city often figured as subject matter for Louis Lozowick, who noted, "The dominant trend in America of today, beneath all the apparent chaos and confusion, is towards order and organization which find their outward sign and symbol in the rigid geometry of the American city: in the verticals of its smoke stacks, in the parallels of its car tracks, and the squares of its streets, the cubes of its factories, the arc of its bridges, the cylinders of its gas tanks."
Lozowick preferred the medium of lithography and made nearly 300 lithographs during his lifetime. After immigrating to the United States when he was 14, the artist studied at the National Academy of Design and Ohio State University. The Print Club of Cleveland, founded in 1919 and still in existence today, distributed City on a Rock--Cohoes.
Donald Shaw McLaughlin
born Prince Edward Island, Canada 1878
died Marrakesh, Morocco 1948
Untitled (Landscape), 1932
Etching on paper
Gift of Philip Harris Giddens
Once the Canadian-born artist Donald McLaughlin created his first etchings in 1899, he quickly decided to work solely in that medium, a decision that he never changed. McLaughlin came to the United States in 1890, and it remained his home base throughout his career. Images such as this landscape were based on the sights the artist saw during his extensive travels in America and Europe.
John Sloan
born Lock Haven, PA 1871
died Hanover, NH 1951
Robert Henri, Painter, 1931
Etching on paper
Museum purchase made possible by the Edward Swift Shorter Bequest Fund
At the time that John Sloan made this portrait of his mentor and friend Robert Henri, the artists had known each other for nearly 40 years. A pioneer of urban realism, Sloan was one of the major American artists of the early twentieth century, as gifted at printmaking as he was at painting. He taught at the Art Students League, where his students included Reginald Marsh, Raphael Soyer, and Alexander Soyer.
While better known today for his scenes of city life, Sloan also excelled at portraiture, explaining once, "Students find it hard to create a portrait, because they are so concerned with superficial likeness that they are afraid to use their imagination. You must find something that strikes you about the person; put it down as your point of view." In Robert Henri, Painter, Sloan captures his friend's charismatic personality.


Resource Library editor's note:

Readers may also enjoy:

Another exhibition of art from the collection of the Columbus Museum titled Between the Lines:  American Drawings from The Columbus Museum is on display from May 8 through August 14, 2016. Gallery guide text for Between the Lines is available for viewing by clicking here.

For more biographical information on most artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

For an extended object label definition, please see Definitions in Museums Explained.

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Columbus Museum in Resource Library.

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